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Last October the dam finally broke. At the OneAsia tour's Korea Open, he won for the first time as a pro, defeating McIlroy by six shots.
At Quail Hollow, Fowler drew a crowd—dozens of kids in Puma attire, antsy teenage girls and one boy with a painted-on Fowler mustache. It was a familiar scene on today's PGA Tour, but Fowler finally added some husk to the proceedings. In the playoff he belted a 326-yard drive, feathered a gap wedge from 133 yards to four feet and rolled in the birdie for his first Tour victory, in his 72nd start. His celebration was as understated as his clothes are flashy. If he didn't exactly look as if he had won before, he looked as if he'd be doing so for a long time.
Said Fowler's caddie, Joe Skovron, "You look at the guys that were in the field this week—Tiger, [Lee] Westwood, [Phil] Mickelson, Rory—it just makes it that much better."
Woods, the 2007 Wells Fargo champion, wasn't around for the weekend, missing the cut by a shot despite receiving a free (and favorable) drop on the par-5 5th hole last Friday when his badly pulled approach disappeared into the gallery. The finish continued a trend of unpredictability for Woods. His last four starts: a WD (Doral), a win (Arnold Palmer), a 40th (Masters) and an MC (Wells Fargo).
"If I get over the ball and I feel uncomfortable, I hit it great," he said. "I get out there and I want to feel comfortable and I follow my old [swing patterns] and hit it awful."
Pressed on why he's still uncomfortable almost two years after he started working with Sean Foley, Woods said the swing changes he made under Butch Harmon and Hank Haney took just as long. "It takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of golf balls, but eventually it comes around," Woods said.
That sent Twitter's golf community into a tizzy. "bull----," tweeted Steve Elkington.
Even Haney, no doubt growing more comfortable in his second career as an author, jumped into the fray. "Check the record on this 2 yr timetable because that is not what the record says," he tweeted. "Maybe referring to comfort but not results. Won 9 times in 1st 2 years, 66% in top 10 for the 1st 2 yrs."
To write off Woods completely is folly, of course. But his sporadic play is rightly setting off alarms, especially with McIlroy living on the leader board these days.
That is where Fowler expects to be, and he has the game to do it. Consider this: So good was his ball striking over the four days that he won despite finishing only 40th in the field in putting.